Instagram Soundcloud Spotify

Not Just “RIPE” but Ageless – the Debut Album from Sunderland’s SLUG

Memphis Industries

Written by:

Sunderland musician Ian Black takes the music out of the field and in to the polymorphous laboratory on debut album RIPE. The resulting Brew is intoxicating.

If you’re a musician in Sunderland and you cross paths with premier skewed-pop maestros Field Music, watch out, you might just become infected and end up making your own album full of oddly catchy, bright and idiosyncratic rock songs that drift all across the influence map only to emerge as focused – if not more focused – as any artist you’re drawing from. Really, how it’s possible to blur genres like this yet remain so X-acto knife pristine in composition and execution is, well, it’s the unanswerable conundrum that has driven the Brewis brothers for a decade and now animates the erstwhile Field Music tour bassist Ian Black’s debut album as SLUG. On paper, to be honest, none of this should work. Gene-splicing the likes of a John Bonham beat – “Out On The Tiles,” to be specific – with the cheeky vocal immodesty of early Sparks while injecting a Manzanera-esque guitar break and sealing it all in dadaist absurdity as on “Cockeyed Rabbit Wrapped In Plastic,” or concocting a mild Trinidadian nightmare of steel drums blithely set adrift in a shadowy sea of castaway bass notes and lonely atmospherics like happens on “Weight of Violence,” seemingly a soundtrack gone way astray (the title itself coyly misleading), RIPE should by all rights be a scattered mess. But it’s not, it’s the opposite. The album holds together with the solid implausibility of a Chinese puzzle.

Produced by the brothers, who also constitute the band along with Andrew Lowther on bass and Rhys Patterson drumming, RIPE naturally has the Brewis brothers imprimatur stamped over it in a broadly stylistic sense but is notable for the extent to which it departs from same. Where Field Music albums tend to coagulate, however extravagantly, around a sound that’s loosely identifiable with each release, Black launches his SLUG debut with, as implied, a more wide open lens. The recording process governed by its own oblique strategy – essentially a dictum of ‘what if’ mash-ups, as in “What if we took the earnest bombast of Springsteen and forced it into partnership with, say, the stylings of Alfred Apaka,” fortunately not a real example here but you get the idea – the results hold up Ian Black as a fearless hybridizer whose skills could easily find purchase on the further far-out fringes of hip-hop had his tastes leaned in that direction. But, as they tend instead toward the chamber/baroque end of the rock spectrum we get an art-pop potpourri, a smart smorgasbord that draws at will from across the Western palate. It can be dizzying in places but I tell ya, if what you hear on here confuses you, well, you’ve seldom been so wonderfully – nor as gratefully – confused.


[Photo credit: Carolina Faruolo]

The bump and snappy grind of “Running to Get Past Your Heart” presents a continental profile that posits Gruppo Sportivo as international men of mystery with its sly spy motifs, some spry bongo action and a bit of a cappella percussion a la The Bobs, all the while visited by a giddiness of a B-52’s-inflected funk band. “Peng Peng,” immediately after it, suggests early Eldorado‘d ELO in the grips of a Van Cliburn piano meditation. If you can imagine Kool & the Gang doing a spot-on impression of Crowded House you have an idea of what “Shake Your Loose Teeth” sounds like (even as its title invokes Countdown to Ecstasy-era Steely Dan, no accident I suspect). Because of its irreverent wink at mommy issues and the wildly confident musicianship that’s so natural it feels tossed-off, “Eggs and Eyes” reminds this writer of last year’s masterful Ashley Reaks album Compassion Fatigue 1-8, if with a flashing soup├žon of 10CC thrown in because it works and because why not, there’s another ‘what if’ tackled and conquered. Finding that elusive sweet spot between the art-prog-pop of St Vincent and robot funk that we didn’t even know we were looking for but are glad now it’s been found, the short punchy indictment of “Greasy Mind” has the decency and common sense to also break out a burst of Isley-goes-Johnny Guitar Watson soloing that’ll turn Prince’s head with respect and envy.

I could go on, but you don’t need me to, you get it. However, I will say this: we need albums like this. As with St Vincent, Field Music, Mr Reaks and all the other shackle-breakers (Bastards of Fate, Tunabunny, Deerhoof, whatever Hannah Jones is up to this week, to name but a handful), they challenge the comfort of our collective musical assumptions and make us feel good about it (great, even) because the songs are just…so good. Look, I love a neatly-crafted linear indie tune as much as anyone, we’re human, it’s how our hearts beat. But it’s the tracks like these that SLUG has concocted on RIPE – which, by the way, don’t lack for a beating pulse at their center, it’s just it might be a bit more peristaltic – that can excite a person body mind and head-nodding soul, engaging the entire schematica of one’s listening circuitry. I’ll no doubt dig the new Django Django album when it comes out but there’s even less doubt as to which one will still sound fresh ten years down the road, or hell, even by the first of December when the call for top-ten lists lands in my email. If I may put it pithily, this record is more than ripe, it’s ageless.